My irritating politics.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 November

My worldview must be built on nothing less than Jesus’s blood and righteousness.

My politics annoy people.

I’m not as conservative as my friends assume I should be. To their minds, all Christians should be as conservative as they. If we’re not, they wonder just how Christian we really are. ’Cause in their minds, Christianity is conservatism; conservatism is Christianity; if you follow Jesus you’re naturally gonna think like they do. Thanks to the human self-preservation instinct, they assume because I don’t think like they do, I’m the one at fault. I’m wrong. (Doesn’t help that I’ll totally admit that.)

I’m not as progressive as my other friends assume I should be. To their minds, all Christians should buck the knee-jerk conservatism of popular Christian culture, ’cause it’s hypocrisy, corrupted by social Darwinists who’ve manipulated gullible social conservatives into adopting their worldview and voting their way. Because I still side with conservatives on many issues, they reckon I’m still stuck in my old knee-jerk ways; I’m not as “enlightened” as they. Not yet. I’ve come this far, so they’ve not given up hope. But they do wish I’d hurry up.

So whenever I express a view, I’m gonna annoy one camp or the other.

That’s the trouble with being a political moderate. Contrary to what Rush Limbaugh’s always taught, a moderate isn’t someone who wants to please everybody and can’t pick a side. Such people do exist, but they’re not moderates. They’re apolitical: They don’t have a side—and don’t care enough to choose one. A true moderate has totally chosen sides: We ally with conservatives on certain issues, progressives on others. Not for the same reasons—because our worldviews don’t match.

See, I’m trying to follow Jesus. No, I’m not saying my conservative and progressive friends aren’t trying to follow Jesus. Some of ’em are, and some not. Some of them think they are, and some aren’t even trying. It’s just that in my quest for Jesus, he points me in directions different Americans consider leftward or rightward. I’m trying to be consistent with his standard, not any one party’s.

I know; some of you totally understand Jesus transcends politics, so you can respect that. But plenty of people don’t believe any such thing: If Jesus could vote, he’d absolutely be in their party. No question. Have you seen the pagans in the opposition party? Great googly moogly.

Christians and American politics.

If you’re visiting this blog from outside the United States, hi there! Thanks for visiting. If you’ll give me a moment, I’ll try to sum up American politics briefly. Sorry for the civics lesson, but it’ll help you understand where I’m coming from.

Other countries have multiple political parties. So, believe it or not, does the United States. But since the beginning (mimicking the British system in the 1700s) only the two largest parties are institutional. Originally they were the Federalists and Anti-Federalists; today it’s Democrats (created when the Democratic-Republicans split over Andrew Jackson’s policies) and Republicans (created when the Whigs split over slavery). As of a recent poll about 30 percent of us are Democrats, 28 percent Republicans, and 39 percent affiliate with one of the other parties, but more often no party.

In other countries, you don’t join a party unless you first agree with its views. In the United States we do the reverse: We join a party, then try to change it to suit us. This is why there are such things as conservative Democrats and progressive Republicans: We join a party to pull it our way. So when people join the Republicans, it’s because they like the Republicans… and they’d like the party even more if it reflected their kind of Republican. Social conservatives join, hoping to make the party (and ultimately America) more socially conservative. Fiscal conservatives join, hoping to make it (and America) more fiscally conservative. Gays join, hoping to make things more gay-friendly. Anti-immigrants join, hoping to make things more white. Donald Trump joins, hoping to make things more stupid. You get the idea.

Among Republicans are two major factions… best represented, more or less, by my own parents.

  • Mom’s a Christian, opposes sin (so, socially conservative), and would like the party and nation to be socially conservative like her.
  • Dad’s… well, Dad’s whatever the right-wing talk-radio hosts tell him he is. As an atheist, he tires quickly of the religious pundits, which means most of the guys he listens to are fiscally conservative libertarians. So he’s kinda that.

There ya go: The socially-conservative religious wing which provides the bulk of the people, and the fiscally-conservative libertarian wing which provides the bulk of the money.

These worldviews don’t jibe on a lot of issues. Fighting sin costs money, so libertarians would rather not. Legalizing everything means permitting sin, so religious would rather not. These factions emphasize the points where they find common ground, and try to get the other side to accommodate their side. The religious try to get the libertarians to be moral, and the libertarians try to get the religious to be immoral libertarian. It’s why a lot of Christian conservatives end up as abominable Christianist hybrids, who claim to follow Jesus, but absolutely won’t pay for government to follow Jesus’s agenda. The free stuff, like school prayer, is one thing. Healing the sick?—that’s best left to the private sector.

Democrats have many more factions. Basically, everyone else—everyone the Republicans push away. Many conservative Christians among the Republicans are hostile towards Islam, and as a result conservative religious Muslims, who should be Republican, who fit that party so well, wind up among the Democrats. There are a lot of conservative black voters who will never rejoin the Republicans because of how members of that party behaved during the Civil Rights era… so when black Californians came out in force in 2008 to elect Barack Obama, they also voted to ban same-sex marriage in our state. Every Democrat pulls in every direction, and it’s a wonder they move at all. It’s why, despite Democrats’ greater numbers, Republicans win more elections. Or as Democrats put it, “why we can’t get our [obscene euphemism for “act”] together.”

Thanks to my parents I grew up Republican. Thanks to my church, I grew up socially conservative. I was a knee-jerk conservative for a lot of years. Then I read up on conservatism and became a knowledgeable conservative. And in the past 20 years I’ve gone moderate. Or, as my conservative friends call it, “liberal.”

I totally understand where they’re coming from. They’ve confounded conservatism with Christianity so closely, it’s like I left Jesus. It’s as if a Spirit-filled Christian decided to become atheist: How? Considering what you’ve seen and experienced of God, how could you reject him? The only reasonable explanation: You faked those experiences. You had to have. You never did see God; never really were a Spirit-filled Christian. They apply this very analogy to ex-conservatives: You must’ve been faking conservatism. You never were one. Not really.

They’re right: I wasn’t. I was Christian. I fell into conservatism because I was raised to believe Christians are conservative by default. As I said, sometimes conservatives and Christians reach the same conclusions, and ally on certain issues. But in the end they’re not compatible. Don’t get the wrong idea: Progressivism and Christianity aren’t compatible either. No philosophy which stands outside God’s kingdom, which pursues worldly power instead of surrendering all power whatsoever to Jesus, is compatible with Christianity. None. Don’t fool yourself.

I did fool myself, for a lot of years.

Recovering conservative.

A fellow CSU Sacramento alumnus (and fellow staffer at the State Hornet) was recently stunned to discover when we went to school together, I was conservative. She never saw it. Which is kinda understandable: It didn’t come up.

Most of the campus political issues involved state-level politics. Governor Pete Wilson was Republican, but he was a fiscal conservative and I was a social conservative, so I considered him the wrong kind of conservative. Didn’t like him. Especially after he retroactively raised everyone’s tuition by 40 percent in mid-semester. Oh, and appointed Barry Munitz as chancellor of the California State University. Munitz had plowed a savings and loan into the ground, resulting in a $1.6 billion government bailout. Then his corporation had hostilely taken over a lumber company, and to recoup their losses they cut employee pensions and clear-cut an old forest. We’re not talking the most moral of capitalists here. (In fact, after leaving the CSU, Munitz was hired to run the J. Paul Getty Trust… and was forced to resign in 2006 ’cause of some really iffy expense account activities.) Between outrage over Munitz, and the usual immature activities of the fraternities, the Associated Students senate, and my fellow students, my conservatism never really had to came up.

Till it did. It was one ridiculously late night when the paper wasn’t finished till around 4:30 a.m. Often we’d head over to Denny’s for a cheap dinner, but it was morning, so we went to Pancake Circus. Like the name suggests: They specialize in pancakes, and the decor is as garish as a circus. Anyway, it was late (or early), guards were down, one of the editors got to talking about some issue she felt passionate about, and she foolishly asked me what I thought. I foolishly told her. “My God,” she replied, stunned, “you’re a conservative.” She’d had no clue.

Nor did she really know what to do with this information. See, most of the conservatives she met, when you talked politics with them, turned out to be jerks about it. (As I often was.) But she liked me, and didn’t know where to categorize me—she couldn’t hate me. So she tried to convert me. Which didn’t work, but she gave it a shot.

Shortly later I helped start a small town newspaper and wrote a right-wing column. That’s when I got heavily into Republican politics. I went to fundraisers. I stumped for candidates door-to-door. I went to the state conventions. I joined the Young Americans for Freedom. I even bought and read Rush Limbaugh’s second book—you know, the hastily-slapped-together-for-a-quick-buck sucky one. I went hardcore.

In so doing, I couldn’t help but constantly slam into the significant differences between social and economic conservatives. I’m not a materialist, never have been, and began to express my outrage about fiscal conservatives who only cared about the bottom line, who’d sell out the few moral convictions they had for a tax break or profit or political capital. Sometimes in person, sometimes in my column. Whereupon fellow Republicans would tell me, “Would you shut up? We need their money.”

Guess I annoyed all the wrong people, because I was eventually fired from my column: The newspaper’s board decided a twentysomething was “too young” to be a political columnist. Yeah right. I quit the paper soon afterward, and went to seminary.

That’s when my politics really changed. Theology will do that to you. Politics, I began to realize, was my way of avoiding spiritual growth. I’d made an idol of it. It was the pursuit of the wrong power. I had to get out of it. So I did.

After graduating, I went back into journalism. I became managing editor of a community newspaper, and tried to be apolitical—that is, I stayed out of party politics. But I let it slip I was Christian, and the locals wrongly assumed I was a conservative Republican, as conservative Republicans will. I had to correct them: I was gonna work social change through the media and my church. But not the party, not government. No more party animal I.

Party stuff came up again years later, when I taught at a Christian junior high school. A lot of the Christian-school movement is based on conservative politics, which they try to indoctrinate the kids in through science and social science. The two subjects I taught. I found myself regularly correcting a lot of heavily biased textbooks… lest the kids believe states’ rights were really why the South fought the “War Between the States” (this is what happens when your principal buys textbooks from Bob Jones University), or lest the kids waste two months in their science classes learning anti-evolutionism. Really? You need two months every single year?

My fellow Christian social science teachers are fascinated by worldview studies. These folks claim the route intellectual Christians need to take is to challenge the world’s empty philosophies with “the Christian worldview”—the one true way a Christian should interpret the universe. More accurately it’s a socially conservative Calvinist worldview, with a bit of fiscal conservatism thrown in, presented as if it’s the only way any Christian should think, because it’s rational and consistent. C.S. Lewis’s The Discarded Image disabused me long ago of that argument ’cause the medievals also had a Christian worldview which was rational and consistent—and totally wrong.

The problem with being a moderate—or as my friends and opponents called it, a “liberal Republican”—was there was always the temptation to not challenge everything, not rethink everything, not ask question after question. Much easier to go with the flow, slide back into old, comfortable, easier beliefs, and pretend since I was in the same party, all was well. Much easier to take advantage of some of those old party connections if I wanted anything done. I found a really simple solution to this temptation: I quit the Republicans. Then I burned the ships behind me Cortez-style: I registered as a Democrat.

And my family may never forgive me. Mom can’t fathom voting for anyone who’s not prolife, and Dad, who thought he had me all figured out, doesn’t know what to make of me. Certain Christian friends consider it apostasy.

It serves its purpose, though. I’m not plugged into the Democratic apparatus at all, and have zero temptation to start. And actually, I found certain Democrats, who’d never listen to me talk about Jesus before, now will. (Whereas Republicans still just assume I’m one of them ’cause I’m Christian.) It actually works for me. It may not for you; I’m not suggesting every Christian switch parties. But if you really wanna be non-political, I find a good political realignment is more useful than simply registering as independent.

Wrong fight.

Nothing makes us feel more righteous than taking the right side, and fighting for it. This is how politics became my substitute for following Jesus: Why do good works when we can just vote in a government that’ll do all our good works for us? Or, if no good works (’cause that’ll cost money) no works. At least they won’t be evil works.

So if we don’t like abortion, we needn’t go find the women in our community who are considering abortion, and offer to help them with better alternatives. Or (and a fiscal conservative would add “God forbid”) provide them social services. We just need to vote for a prolife president and Congress. Then they’ll stock the Supreme Court with prolife justices, who’ll overturn Roe v. Wade. Congress will pass a law, and problem solved.

How’d that work out in real life? Let’s see… We now have a Roman Catholic majority on the Supreme Court. They’ve overturned nothing as far as abortion is concerned. But they did overturn restrictions on corporate speech, ridiculously arguing that since corporations were “people” in a legal sense, they’re entitled to civil rights too. So now corporations can be created which buy unlimited campaign ads, and outspend every other candidate by a mile. Is that what we prolifers fought so long and hard for? I sure didn’t.

In the 1980s and ’90s Republicans told prolife conservatives, “Get us elected and we’ll ban abortion.” Well, they got elected. They’ve had decades to live up to that promise. In the 2000s they had a Republican-led Congress, Supreme Court, and a Republican president. And, consistent with Republican principles since the 1960s (’cause they sure weren’t their principles in the 1860s), they insisted upon states’ rights: States will deal with the abortion issue. Not the feds. The feds will just concentrate on deregulating everything, and if it collapses the housing market and automobile industry and American manufacturing in the process, so be it. Screw the social agenda; there’s money to be made.

But passing laws, or overturning them, isn’t the solution anyway. It’s to find the needy and help them, by every moral means necessary. Of course, thinking that way will fly in the face of libertarianism, because sometimes the most effective necessary means is through government. It’ll fly in the face of social conservatism, because its many legalists will regularly deny aid to sinners, forgetting grace is for everyone, or it’s not really grace. It’ll fly in the face of progressivism, because we don’t always want to surrender our “rights” to aid the needy. The world’s politics regularly butt heads with God’s kingdom. It’s why Jesus is gonna overthrow them when he returns to take over.

So you’ll understand if I don’t adhere to the parties all that closely. Ultimately I’m trying to help Jesus pave the way for their downfall.

Justifying our worldviews.

Years ago Dr. Tony Campolo wrote Is Jesus a Republican or a Democrat? A question, I should point out, only Democrats ask.

’Cause they’re trying to jar Republicans, who never ask themselves that question. As I said, most of ’em will concede, sometimes after a long discussion, Jesus transcends politics. The rest would never concede any such thing. They’re entirely sure their politics are consistent with Jesus. So when I disagree with them, on any issue, it bugs them. Greatly. They’re sure there’s a screw loose in my reasoning. Because there’s nothing wrong with their reasoning.

Humans have a built-in self-defense mechanism: When threatened, we defend ourselves. Many things trigger this mechanism. Including things which have no business triggering it, politics included. When people express a view contrary to ours, we have a knee-jerk, visceral reaction: They’re wrong. They just are. Don’t have to think about it. Just have to defend. Or attack.

It’s instinct, you know; it’s not logical. But humans really like to believe we’re logical creatures, so we insist we are so being rational about our politics. We grab any arguments which defend that point of view. True logic means starting with the truth, and working our way down to a proposition. In practice, humans start with the propositions, and work our way backwards. We’re not trying to correct ourselves. Just defend.

Very few of us came to our political opinions by thinking things out. We were raised with them. Years ago I asked my seventh-graders for a show of hands: How many were Democrats, and how many Republicans? The kids respectively raised their hands for either party. “Okay,” I said, “now put your hands down: None of you are Democrats or Republicans. That’s what your parents are. You aren’t registered to vote.” They’ve since grown up, and some of ’em are what their parents or influences raised ’em to be. (Or they’re rebelling; either way.) Had my parents not instilled conservatism in me, I’d have got my views from pastors and friends and role models; I could’ve been led the progressive direction.

But once the groundwork is laid, once we’re questioned, we seek out and regurgitate the basic justifications for our views: Somebody else’s talking points. I recognize ’em when I hear them, ’cause I learned them too. I had to give some of them up, you know.

Jesus is my corrective. As I follow him, when I discover he teaches otherwise, I have to drop my opinions. They must be replaced with his, ’cause he’s right and I’m not. Which is not always an easy change to make, ’cause I’m very fond of my thinking. I invested a lot of time defending my worldview. I still have a lot of knee-jerk conservatism in me. I still have old prejudices. Change comes hard. But it must come, or Jesus isn’t Lord.

Not every Christian considers Jesus their corrective—nor think they need one. They know plenty of Christians who think like they do. They don’t (and won’t) see any contradiction between their beliefs and Jesus. Any scriptures which defend their worldview, in context or not, comes forth. Any scripture which doesn’t help, is considered a part of the bible which doesn’t count any more ’cause of dispensationalism. The Sermon on the Mount isn’t how we’re supposed to live today; it’s how heaven works in the future. And so Christians nullify everything we don’t like, justify everything we do, and bend the bible to suit our politics. The Christian Left and Christian Right both do this. Liberally.

So, my politics annoy people.